Monday 24 October 2016

Manchester United blow in race for fourth with Anthony Martial facing injury lay-off

James Ducker

Published 09/05/2016 | 14:34

Manchester United's Anthony Martial
Manchester United's Anthony Martial

Anthony Martial will miss Manchester United's crucial game away to West Ham United on Tuesday night and is facing a race against time to be fit for the club's final league match of the season against Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Sunday.

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The United striker pulled up with a hamstring injury in the warm-up before the 1-0 win at Norwich City on Saturday and has not been passed fit for the visit to Upton Park, which will be West Ham's final game at the Boleyn ground.

The prospect of being without Martial, United's leading scorer with 15 goals this season, would be an untimely blow for Louis van Gaal as the beleaguered manager chases the two wins that will guarantee the club's qualification for next season's Champions League. 

City's 2-2 draw against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium handed United the advantage in the battle for a top four finish and maximum points from their final two games would see Van Gaal clinch fourth place for a second successive season, or perhaps third in the unlikely event Arsenal falter at home to bottom club Aston Villa on Sunday. City play Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday.

Martial will be tested throughout the week as United aim to get him fit for Bournemouth although Van Gaal is wary of aggravating the problem with the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace still to play at Wembley a week on Saturday. 

Van Gaal's future remains shrouded in doubt with Jose Mourinho confident he will be given the chance to succeed the man with whom he worked at Barcelona in the late 1990s. 

Van Gaal claimed last week before the Norwich win that he could ill afford one defeat with his job on the line but Dutchman believes fourth place and a Cup triumph against Palace would boost his prospects of seeing out the final year of his contract at Old Trafford.

Mourinho is understood to have an agreement in principle with United but nothing has been signed as the former Chelsea manager continues to wait to see what the Manchester club's hierarchy opt to do. 

Paris St-Germain are also interested in Mourinho but he has reservations about moving to France given the lack of competition in Ligue 1 and his strong preference is to stay in the Premier League and ideally take over at United. 

Van Gaal has come in for fierce criticism this season from fans, former players and the media for United's drab brand of football and inconsistent results. Questions have been raised about the value of keeping a manager for the final 12 months of his contract and the impact that could have on attracting new players and motivating a squad who have had a series of misgivings about the Dutchman's methods.

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